Chapter 5: The Short Bus.
Okay, so maybe "The Short Bus" isn't as funny a chapter title as I thought it was the first time.
“So, did you and Ms. Grimm have a good time?” her mother asked. “That was a long trip for ice cream.”
Alexandra studied her mother, wondering if she suspected anything, or if she was at all curious about this mysterious school and the scholarship that came out of the blue, or if the Confundus Charm Ms. Grimm had told her about simply made anything seem sensible and not worth questioning.
“Yeah. She's... interesting.”
“Well, good.” Her mother looked down at a puzzle she was doing in a little book of crosswords. “You'd better go to bed, then.”
Claudia doesn't usually kiss Alexandra good-night, or do other "Mom"-type things, which is what led many readers to believe either I was making Claudia deliberately dysfunctional as a parent, or that I had an odd notion of mother-daughter relationships. Of course we've had several posts about Claudia's mothering now, so I won't belabor it, other than to say that we can probably assume Claudia does show affection to Alexandra sometimes. (As we've seen in a few vignettes and what was revealed to Alexandra in book four.)
I have always wondered about Harry's upbringing with the Dursleys. In the books, none of them ever show him the least bit of affection, until the final scene in Deathly Hallows. But did Petunia really deny Harry any affection at all? When he was a baby, did she just let him lie in his crib crying? It seems hard to believe either that even Petunia Dursley could be that cruel, or that Harry wouldn't grow up with Reactive Attachment Disorder or the like if she was. But in Harry Potter, the Dursleys sort of straddled the line between so unbelievable as to be comical, and just plain awful. I wanted to give the impression that Claudia is, well, a little lacking in the maternal affection department, but not a heartless bitch.
“Okay,” Alexandra said, a little sulkily, though she made a funny expression when her mother again kissed her on the forehead before going out the door.
I really wanted to get Alexandra's personality right. She's a little aloof and distant, her arrogance concealing a certain amount of insecurity, but she has the capacity to be as loving as anyone else. She doesn't show her softer emotions readily, and I don't think that's all because of Claudia and Archie. Children do reflect their upbringing, but they also have their own inborn personalities, and Alexandra is somewhat of a tough cookie by nature. I think if she had been raised by, say, the Kings, she'd have been a little more accustomed to displays of affection and maybe less embarrassed about returning them, but she still would not have been a person who gives out hugs and kisses as easily as Julia.
Alexandra decided to actually behave herself that day. Naturally, before the day was over, she would have broken every rule she'd just been told not to.
Now that's a clunker. I try not to do that anymore. Sometimes you can get away with anvilicious foreshadowing, especially in a children's story ("Little did she know that on that day..."), but in general it's not good writing, and I suspect that had I had betas for book one, the above sentence would not have survived the final draft.
Did he look at all like her? His hair was dark like hers, but he appeared to have dark gray eyes. His skin wasn't as pale, but there was something about his nose and the way it turned up just a little that reminded her of her own nose. His chin was covered by his beard, so she couldn't compare, and he had much bushier eyebrows. His cheeks were softly rounded, a little like hers. Alexandra could see a resemblance if she tried really hard, but it would be just as easy to conclude that any resemblance was superficial at best.
My Poser images really are only approximations of my characters. Unfortunately, after creating them for years, the Poser images have started to become the real ones in my head.
So, Alexandra uses doggerel verse to open her locket, then gets an Owl from the Trace Office and a howler from Dean Grimm (delivered by a hawk!).
Late in the afternoon, she was sitting in the living room, watching out the window. Some kids were playing kickball in the street, including Brian and Bonnie. Alexandra wanted very much to be outside with them. She was a pretty good kickball player, so she was usually chosen early for teams, even though the other neighborhood children weren't eager to play with her otherwise. She watched Brian, who was also a fair player (but she was better, she thought to herself), and Bonnie, who was terrible but tried hard.
Hey, tealterror0, see? Brian does have friends besides Alexandra. She just doesn't notice them.
She just looked at him. He shook his head. “Trolls, secret highways, magic ice cream, wands and, and familiars and –” He shook his head again, and stared at her, and there was both anger and fear in his eyes, and something else, as if he were looking at a strange magical creature shaped like Alexandra but which might be dangerous.
Bleh. This chapter, for some reason, strikes me as a little more poorly-written than the previous ones. If there is one thing I really feel is lacking in my writing (actually, there are many things...) it's descriptiveness. I don't aspire to be a particularly poetic writer who's known for pretty words, but I have been told I could do with a bit more description, a bit more color in my language. And sometimes I fail at writing prosey paragraphs. "A strange magical creature shaped like Alexandra but which might be dangerous"? What the hell is that? He thinks she's a doppelganger? This just... doesn't really work.
Which is a shame, because I wanted this to be a pivotal scene, an emotional turning point for Alexandra as she enters the wizarding world: the point where Brian turns his back on her (for now).
Other than slightly clunky prose, I do think the scene carries that message effectively, but I also note that Brian's monologue seems a little too self-aware and portentous for an eleven-year-old. I dunno - what do you think? This is another common criticism, that I tend to write kids being a wee bit too mature for their ages.
And here we meet the first of many recurring characters. Gwendolyn Adams I probably could have done more with, but she turned out to be nothing but a bit of comic relief (and a clue about the wizarding world's condescension towards Muggles). Mrs. Speaks, whose physical appearance, by the way, is modeled after my kindergarten teacher. And introducing Torvald and Stuart....
“Stuart, Torvald, stop throwing hexes at each other!” Gwendolyn said, snatching their wands out of their hands. She shook her head. “I ought to tell Mrs. Speaks not to fix your faces when we get to Chicago!” She handed the wands back to them, and they sulkily put them away.
Torvald and Stuart are the Fred and George of Charmbridge.
Things I had semi-planned way back when: I always thought that at some point, Torvald would take an interest in Alexandra. I didn't have any idea how it would happen, if it would be a "serious" relationship or a fling, or maybe just a kiss, but Alexandra is just too wild for Torvald not to be interested in her once they're both old enough. So I figured all along that Torvald was going to follow the cliched pattern of harassing and teasing the girl he actually likes.
As for Stuart: no, I didn't plan for him to be gay way back when. That's just something that developed when I was writing book four.
“Darla Dearborn,” said the white girl sitting next to Angelique. She batted her lashes prettily as she shook Alexandra's hand. “Don't worry about being Muggle-born. Lots of kids at Charmbridge are. My grandmother is a Muggle, so I know what it's like.”
Poor, patronizing Darla. At this point, I had not conceived any grand plans for her. I knew she'd probably be significant beyond comedy relief and a low-level antagonist for Alexandra, but I didn't have her fall planned in book one.
So, Alexandra meets Angelique, Darla, Anna, David, Constance, and Forbearance, and we also meet the Rashes for the first time. And yes, I have had the Pritchards being "bespoken" to the Rashes planned from the very beginning!
“We have wands,” said Constance. She pulled a long, polished hardwood stick out of her cloak. It looked as if it had been worn smooth by many years of handling.
“We've had them since we were eight,” Forbearance said, showing her own wand.
Evidently the Pritchards' grammar has gotten worse since sixth grade...